The Top 3 IoT Devices in Aviation Right Now

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been generating massive buzz for a while now. But where are the exciting, tangible IoT devices that showcase what this technology evolution is really all about? Aviation is where.

This post will show you the top 3 aviation IoT devices right now and highlight the technology behind them.

There has been a lot of focus on household IoT items, but thus far they have largely been nothing more than a novelty. We have not seen true mature platforms that communicate with each other in a way that transforms our lives.

But don’t despair…

Aviation is Leading the IoT Pack

“The data generated by the aerospace industry alone could soon surpass the magnitude of the consumer Internet.” – Aviation Week

There are many exceptional developments in the Aviation IoT space, but I’m here to give 3 of the top devices showcasing what this technology can really do.

In terms of qualifying this list, I’m looking for true IoT devices. There is a continuum of product development, with the last generation being ”smart devices.” These smart devices contain sensors and processors, with the ability to handle that data locally for direct interaction with the user.

We’ve had sensors in aviation for a very long time. Everyone is familiar with black boxes. And thanks to the military, aviation has really pushed the envelope in terms of smart sensors.

The next step in this continuum is having these smart devices be able to connect to the Internet, each other, and central processing locations. They can share the data from their sensors.

In other words, IoT is about the connection. It’s about collecting and sharing data. It’s about centralizing that data…Big Data…and monetizing it. It’s about machine-to-machine communication. It’s about machines being able to make decisions based on up-to-the-minute information.

“As Peters notes, much of the innovation is focused on enabling IoT devices to communicate. Google recently announced Brillo, an underlying operating system for IoT devices, and Weave, a cross-platform common language that will let devices communicate with each other locally and via the cloud.” – GE

Read my post The IoT Remote Connectivity Feature Hot List to learn more about what makes puts the “connection” in IoT.

IoT Landscape in the Aviation Industry

When it comes to IoT, aviation is an absolute hotbed of opportunity. Aircraft are highly complex with many systems that require situation data. Managing air traffic, repairs, logistics, and “simple” things like luggage…doubly so.

In fact, Aviation Week says IoT will completely transform the aviation industry.

Additionally, so much is at stake when it comes to air travel. When things don’t work, lives and billions of dollars are at stake.

Gone will be the days of relying on the black box and dealing with airplanes full of passengers vanishing (777 flight MH370 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew).

Rather, we’ll see multiple systems within the aircraft self reporting and communicating back to multiple hubs. This can include engines, tires, computer systems, structural components, and maybe even the coffee maker.

Imagine an airplane cruising in the air. As it travels, it proactively identifies maintenance issues. Immediately, it can order parts and chemicals, kick off the logistics chain, and schedule the ground maintenance crew. When the airplane lands, everything is in place to have it perfectly serviced and on to the next flight without missing a beat.

IoT Challenges for the Aviation Industry

Airlines have many of challenges ahead. For most, heavy reliance on legacy systems and legacy architecture tops the list.

“The volumetric will grow exponentially as sensors, beacons, wearables all start beaming information, connecting to each other as well as enterprise applications. In addition, IoT environments work in real time. This mesh of big and fast data and real-time cadence will need to be addressed in the architectural framework,” says Emirates’ Chopra. Chief information officers’ focus, he suggests, should be on getting the architecture right for IoT. ” – How airlines are tapping into the Internet of Things

In general, we face an unsettled IoT technology marketplace as well. This makes it difficult for big companies with deeply embedded systems to make a confident investment.

“Right now, there are a lot of competing technologies and frameworks out there when it comes to the IoT. If you combine this with the legacy technology that many airlines face, there’s a lot of work to be done on interoperability. The starting point is to build IoT gateways and application programme interface layers to ensure that you have a platform that you can build from,” advises Virgin’s Graham. – How airlines are tapping into the Internet of Things

Of course, privacy and security are major challenges as well. Managing thousands or millions of devices and connections cannot be done lightly. Especially with the unique security concerns of the Aviation industry, true platform hardening and ongoing updates are essential.

I take a deeper dive into security and the unsettled technology in my article Stop Using a VPN to Connect to Your Products.

As already alluded to in those quotes, scalability is also a major factor. The sheer volumes involved with IoT…from devices to the amount of data…complicate everything, from deployment, to infrastructure, to security. For more on this, check out my post on How to Make Remote Connectivity Scalable from Day 1.

The Top 3 IoT Devices in Aviation Right Now

1. The F-35 Lightning II: the Number #1 IoT Device Regardless of Industry

Alright, the F-35 is the #1 IoT device in Aviation…hands down. Frankly, it’s the number #1 IoT device in any sector.

Nothing packs more sensor fusion, data collection, and connectivity into a single platform.

As a $75 Million plus purebred IoT device, the F-35 Lightning II better get #1.

While the airplane is heavily debated, one thing I can assure you: it is misunderstood. For the price, most people expect this fighter to be the fastest climbing, tightest turning, and best armed airplane ever. However, it was not designed to be any of those things. It was not designed for traditional dogfights.

The Russians have continued to evolve their warplanes to be more powerful and agile. However, the F-35 program has been working toward an entirely different vision of a connected battlefield that completely nullifies the brute strength of individual weapon systems.

Indeed, the F-35 was designed to be the ultimate IoT platform. Here’s how the design team puts it:

“Advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with 360-degree coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by sensors on the F-35 will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the F-35 a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations.”

The F-35 uses its sensors and connections to enable the entire US military in a way that’s simply never been done before. It provides “complete battlefield awareness” to itself, ground troops, ships, and everything in between.

Check out this 5 minute video for highlights of the F-35s IoT capabilities.

It also uses these IoT capabilities to better manage its own maintenance and uptime. Here’s a 2.5 minute video on how the F-35’s connectivity features (Autonomic Logistics Information System) enable unparalleled maintenance capabilities:

For more on the F-35’s IoT capabilities, check out The Drive’s article “Could the F-35 Become the Biggest Electronic Intelligence Collection System Ever Devised?”

2. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engines are the #2 IoT Device

Pratt & Whitney produces engines for airplanes and has been on the cutting edge of IoT.

“At last year’s Paris Air Show for example, Bombardier showcased its C Series jetliner that carries Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine, which is fitted with 5,000 sensors that generate up to 10 GB of data per second. A single twin-engine aircraft with an average 12-hr. flight-time can produce up to 844 TB of data. In comparison, at the end of 2014, it was estimated that Facebook accumulated around 600 TB of data per day; but with an orderbook of more than 7,000 GTF engines, Pratt could potentially download zeta bytes of data once all their engines are in the field. It seems therefore, that the data generated by the aerospace industry alone could soon surpass the magnitude of the consumer Internet.” – Aviation Week

Jet Engine

Pratt & Whitney sees IoT as a way to expand their services business and deliver new predictive services offers. The move to predictive analytics “is really a paradigm shift in the way the business has to operate,” CIO Larry Volz says. Airplanes will be able to have catered maintenance platforms available on landing.

“The company hopes Big Data will connect airlines with equipment manufacturers and businesses that do maintenance, repair and overhaul so they can anticipate repairs before a plane lands.” – Wall Street Journal

While gathering the data and building a connectivity model into an engine is a challenge, Pratt & Whitney must also have the Big Data and analytics back end to really take advantage of the data being collected. At 10 GB per second from one engine, that’s no easy task and takes some serious software engineering capabilities.

3. Dubai Airports…Yes, a Whole Airport is the #3 IoT Device

Maybe you and I won’t feel the direct benefit of the IoT capabilities of an F-35 or a Pratt & Whitney engine, but man…I sure would enjoy a smoother airport experience.


Better coordination at check-in, tracked luggage, coordinated security…the whole customer experience can be streamlined and in fact already is well underway in Dubai Airports.

And not only is this a smooth process for customers, but it is truly embracing the essence of IoT. By integrating with smartphones and smartwatches, customers can be tracked and receive individualized, real-time guidance on how to move through the airport. Better yet, they can keep an eye on their luggage too.

Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Dubai Airports, has the vision of transition the typical airport experience to that of a Formula 1 pit stop. That’s an awesome vision and something all of us will appreciate.

Connectivity and IoT will benefit customers most when any adverse condition occurs, such as weather delays. These sometimes minor events can cause the need to coordinate changes with thousands of people, workers, equipment, and flights. This is where IoT needs to live.

Griffiths describes getting passengers to gates for on-time take-offs as an airline’s nightmare.

“We have 200,000 passengers a day of which between 60 and 70% are transitioning so one of the biggest challenges is to efficiently connect them.”

He claims many passengers lose themselves in the retail area and that a recent trial at the tills using boarding passes and alerting them to the need to get to the gate has reaped dividends and is not far from being rolled out.

“I’m looking forward to changing the game and using the technology. If we can improve the on-time performance the customer is happy and the airline is happy. The potential there is enormous in terms of turnaround time. A plane on the grounds makes zero, imagine what we could achieve.” – Navigating the airport through the Internet of Things


Connectivity is shaking the world up, and one of the biggest industries set to undergo massive upheavel is the airline industry. CTOs have IoT top of mind, and will have plenty of challenges to keep themselves busy as they manage their infrastructure and connectivity technology into this new realm.

If you have some cool IoT tech in the aviation industry that I missed, let me know below in the comments!

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